Online sports betting, such as on DraftKings, is technically illegal in New Mexico. But some state officials are looking to help make it a reality. (Photo illustration by Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

It’s the day before the big football game and you’re looking to place a bet on your team winning.

It’s possible to do that in New Mexico, although only in person at a handful of tribal casinos. Trying to bet online on apps such as FanDuel and DraftKings is a different story, as online sports betting has not been legalized in the state.

That means sports fans can wager bets at sportsbooks run by New Mexico tribal casinos – including Route 66 Casino Hotel and Isleta Resort & Casino – because they are not governed by the state’s Gaming Control Board and are classified as Class III gaming institutions.

Some tribal casinos began offering sports betting shortly after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibited states from authorizing sports gambling.

Bets on horse racing are also allowed at racetrack casinos – which are overseen by the NMGCB – but only on races that take place outside the state.

But the rise of legalized online sports betting might be closer to a reality in New Mexico as more states – including bordering state Arizona – have passed laws allowing for the placing of mobile bets within their respective states, and as younger people are finding new ways to enjoy wagering bets outside of the walls of casinos, state lawmakers and experts have said. Legalized sports betting would also open the door for the state’s five racetrack casinos to benefit monetarily after years of decline in races, breeding and revenue.

While the state could legalize sports betting unilaterally and potentially lose out on revenue sharing from tribal casinos, the road to legalized sports betting across the state would mean navigating a number of barriers, including the re-negotiating of tribal gaming compacts – last updated in 2015 – and new and approved legislation that benefits all sides.

“I think there’s the political will to amend the gating humpbacks to allow sports betting simply because they weren’t contemplated when the latest compacts were negotiated,” said Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque.

Online sports betting

More than 30 states have hopped on the online and retail sports betting train.

Arizona, just a short drive away, legalized online and in-person sports betting a year ago and has seen a huge spike in participation. According to the Arizona Department of Gaming, nearly $540 million in wagers were placed in September – a large majority of which were placed online.

In that time, slightly more than $3 million was collected from taxes on gaming, or what Arizona calls “privilege fees.” That has led Arizona to becoming one of the largest online sports gambling states in the country, Fred Heinrich, general counsel and compliance officer with Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino, told legislators in November.

It isn’t clear how much revenue sports betting at tribal casinos accounts for.

But a report commissioned in 2018 by the New Mexico Consortium said the state would likely “generate approximately $1.2 billion in handle, or bets placed, and $61.1 million in net sports betting revenue annually should it be allowed throughout the state through bricks and mortar sports book locations in the state’s casinos and also through mobile channels where patrons can bet anywhere within state borders.”

Arizona’s casinos – much like New Mexico’s – are the largest driver in gambling revenue for the state. Last fiscal year, casinos in Arizona brought in about $123 million in revenue.

For comparison, New Mexico’s general fund in 2022 so far has seen about $55.4 million in revenue from gambling at tribal casinos. The state receives a portion of tribal casinos’ adjusted net win, as part of the state’s gaming compacts with tribes across New Mexico that are negotiated between tribal and state officials – although none of those funds come from sports gambling. The current compacts with tribes run through 2037.

On a national scale, gambling – not just sports betting – has contributed to more than $260 billion in annual economic impact, Heinrich told legislators. Adding online sports betting and its associated tax revenue could mean even more money for New Mexico’s coffers.

But legalizing online sports betting is complicated. Negotiations with tribes on gaming compacts would likely need to happen before any legislation or go-ahead is approved, Maestas said. If the state were to legalize online sports betting without negotiations, it could affect revenue sharing that the state gets from tribal casinos.

Laguna Development Corp., which operates Route 66 Casino Hotel, declined an interview. But in a statement shared with the Journal by Laguna Development Corp., a group of tribal casinos said they will continue to uphold the gaming compacts as currently constructed.

“As members of the newly formed NM Tribal Gaming Coalition, the Laguna Development Corp./Pueblo of Laguna, the Pueblo of Isleta/Isleta Resort & Casino and the Mescalero Apache Tribe continue to support and defend the language in the 2015 tribal/state gaming compacts as ratified by the Governor of New Mexico and the state Legislature that explicitly states Class III gaming, which includes sports betting, is exclusively allowed only for Indian tribes within New Mexico.”

Heinrich said online sports betting would benefit racetrack casinos like Sunland Park, helping get people to bet on local races and thus making the horse racing economy in New Mexico stronger.

“It would attract more people,” Heinrich said.

What comes next

Maestas, who’s long advocated for legalizing online sports betting in the state, said it’s likely one or two bills will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session targeting the legalization of online sports betting, but said they most likely won’t pass through and get to the governor’s desk. Legislation had been introduced in previous years, though it was never passed.

But Maestas said the possibility of new legislation offers a chance for stakeholders to come together, possibly as soon as next summer, to amend the tribal gaming compacts and allow for online sports betting.

“I just can’t wait to be in the same room at the same time,” Maestas said. “You know, it’s been three years since we’ve done that.”